Navy supercomputing power to grow
by Lisa Monti
Published: February 21,2014
The U.S. Navy DoD Supercomputing Resource Center at Stennis Space Center, one of the top 20 supercomputing sites in the world, is adding even more computer power.
Starting in August, the new $21.8-million computers from Cray Inc. will be put to work performing large-scale scientific calculations for Department of Defense researchers around the county.
“We have a customer base of 1,100 users. Our customers utilize high-performance computing in support of over 200 Defense projects,” Tom Dunn, director of the Navy DSRC, said.
The Navy DSRC is one of five supercomputing centers established by the DoD and has 55 employees. A portion of its workload is running mathematical models of the world’s oceans each day to keep the Navy’s fleet operating safely.
The U.S. Navy needs real time information on the ocean environment and what conditions are predicted to look like in the next 10 days, said Dr. William Burnett, deputy commander and technical director of the Commander Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command at Stennis.
The ocean model uses observations collected by sensors measuring ocean currents, temperature and salinity to produce forecasts of waves and ice, among other conditions. The information gives the Navy’s submarines and surface fleet operating around the world what Burnett calls “the home field advantage at away games.”
One brand new tool the Navy is using to collect data is a torpedo-like underwater glider that uses buoyancy-based propulsion to travel around the ocean. “We deploy them, they move around for around 30 days down to 1,000 feet and then surface,” Burnett said.
The Navy runs its newest global ocean prediction system, the groundbreaking Hybrid Coordinate Ocean Model, which gathers information from all areas of the ocean on the Navy DSRC computers.
Any discussion of supercomputing involves the use of superlatives and includes highly technical references such as the teraflops. The Navy DSRC’s current supercomputing capacity is 954 trillion floating point operations (teraflops) a second.
The Navy provided this more down-to-earth equivalent: 100 high school students with handheld calculators would take nearly 317 years to perform the number of calculations a one teraflop-rated computer can accomplish in one second, and almost 275,000 years to do what the new Navy DSRC supercomputers can do every second. By August 2014, the Navy DSRC’s capacity will increase to over 2,400 teraflops.
Burnett said the Navy is making “a concerted effort” to name its new supercomputing systems after NASA astronauts who served in the Navy, including Biloxi native Fred Haise, a naval aviator who flew on the Apollo 13 mission.
The two other systems are named for retired Navy Cmdr. Susan Still Kilrain, a naval aviator and space shuttle pilot, and retired Navy Capt. Eugene Cernan, a naval aviator and the last man to step foot on the moon.
Burnett said the next two systems will honor Alan Shepard, the first American in space and one of NASA’s first seven astronauts, and Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon. “It’s another way to show our close relationship with NASA,” Burnett said.
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